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Historic Trentham, 1914-1917: The Story of a New Zealand Military Training Camp, and Some Account of the Daily Round of the Troops within Its Bounds

Full Uniforms

page 59

Full Uniforms

A button is a button
Or a brooch, as it may be;
All depending on the lady
And a soldier's gallantry.

"One jacket—one pair trousers—one pair putties—one puggaree—two titles—one pair boots—one pair denim shorts—one housewife—one tooth-brush—sign here!"

The rapidly-spoken words were like music in the ears of Curly and Mick Laney. They were getting their uniforms. It was a moment of excitement to these lovers of smart appearances. Long Mac and Hoe were pleased, too, but not so exuberantly. They tried everything on in the issue store very calmly. Lusty and Chinney Dew were studiously indifferent, and Mills and Race and Crow and Jallow were not more demonstrative than usual.

"It means that we'll have to put putties on, now," said Dew. "We'll have to learn how to do it."

"Learn! I know already!" said Curly. "Didn't the corporal show us?"

They were standing outside the store, waiting to be marched to their hut.

"And we get our rifles and equipment this afternoon," said Laney. "Then you'll have to clean your rifle," said Dew.

"Hark to him!" said Curly. "Here's a man who is dying to join the Artillery objecting to cleaning his rifle. Don't you know, Chinny, that the Infantry is the best-off of all, because they haven't any gear or horses to worry about—only their rifles; and they'll lie quiet and won't kick you or bite you."

"I'd sooner clean a shovel than a rifle," said Mills, the silent.

"Squad! Left turn, quick march!" their n.c.o. ordered. They turned quite nimbly and marched away, carrying their new issue of uniforms.

"Seems to me," said Curly to Long Mac, who marched beside him, "that this little team is bucking up since I brought you safely into camp. Something in the Trentham air. We'll be having an argument next!"

"Silence, there! Stop talking!" said the corporal.

page 60

Curly marched on in silence, but his eye watched enviously the chevrons on the corporal's sleeve. At their hut they had time to try on their uniforms. Curly went to help Mills to put on his putties. While he was away from his bunk Dew changed Curly's tunic for Mac's, Mac being at the moment bent double, in the effort to get his boots on. When the Scot had succeeded and was all ready but his tunic, the corporal returned and said,

"McGregor, here. I want you."

Mac jerked himself into Curly's tunic and went out hurriedly, while Chinny Dew nearly had apoplexy at the sight of the big man in Curly's short tunic. When Curly came to get into the one that lay on bis bunk, it covered him like a pilot's jacket, except that it was longer.

"I must have brought the wrong tunic," said Curly, his cheeriness vanished in the face of this calamity.

"Take it back, Curly. Make them change it," said Dew, and Laney endorsed his advice.

"I'm going to," said Curly. He put on his denim coat, took the misfit garment on his arm, and steamed back to the issue store—steamed is the word, for he was boiling inwardly.

A quartermaster-sergeant listened to him calmly.

"We can't change things. You had your choice," he said.

"But—" Curly's indignation made him speechless.

Just then the Camp Quartermaster himself passed.

"What is this, laddie?" he asked.

Curly told him.

"It will soon shrink," said the C.Q.M.

"Shrink!" exclaimed Curly. "Why, I can get out of it without unbuttoning it."

"Let me see you do it."

Curly put it on, buttoned it up, and pulled it over his head.

"My word, you're right," said the C.Q.M. "How did you come to get that misfit ?"

The arrival of an n.c.o. and a long, angry soldier stopped Curly's explanation on his lips. It was Long Mac with Curly's tunic.

"This man wants to change his tunic, sir," said the n.c.o. "Says it is too small."

"Put it on!" ordered the Camp Quartermaster. Mac obeyed, and stood like a skewered pigeon. The officer glanced at Curly.

"Are you two in the same hut?"

"Yes, sir."

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"This is some joker's work. Get into your proper tunics."

The riddle, for such it was to Curly and Long Mac, was solved.

"I said an argument was likely to happen," said Curly; "but it will be a fight when I find out who did this."

"Wait till you've had your town leave," advised the cautious Mac.

"You might get C.B., and then your uniform won't be any use."

Curly, being a sunny-natured soldier, took the advice, and soon forgot the trouble in the excitement of receiving his rifle and sling, pull-through, oil-bottle, protector, bayonet and scabbard, web equipment, and his mess-tin and cover. The much-used issue-cards came out again for the entry to be made and signed. As well as that, the numbers of the rifles and bayonets were entered in a big book. No matter what happened to a man's rifle after that, it was a debit against him which could not be wiped out except by the return of rifle No. 01587, or whatever the number was. If he lost it and it was found, there would be no doubt as to whose it was—which was vaguely comforting, if he looked at it in the right light, for the C.Q.M. takes care to see that the man will get credit for it when returned.

The rows of rifles in the hut gave a more soldierly appearance to it.

"Look at them," said Curly, "and tell me that horses or guns can be stacked up as neat and clean as that."

But he only won grunts from Mills and Dew, who were busily cleaning their buttons and brass titles.